Drive Oregon (electric vehicle group) clears hurdle

A key state economic agency says Oregon should plug $2.45 million into its growing electric vehicle sector and that support for the fledgling industry could spur significant gains.

Though there are still several steps before the industry receives funding, the news is good for dozens of organizations that either provide research and design to the electric vehicle sector or manufacture vehicles, charging stations, batteries and components.

Their collaborative plan for growing the industry, called Drive Oregon, received a funding recommendation from the Oregon Innovation Council Aug. 16, emerging at the top of 23 contenders in a competitive review. It was the only new initiative recommended for funding by the council this biennium, along with five others currently supported by the state.

Oregon InC, as the council is also called, acts as an economic development adviser through a partnership with research universities and the private sector. Council members include business heavyweights, legislators and academic leaders who evaluate new pitches from industry.

Sectors that win the council’s favor have seen big benefits. But earning its recommendation takes work. Each contender must provide a careful plan for success, and industry leaders also have to prove they have the time, the leadership and the resources to turn a state investment into new companies and jobs. Since 2005, only five other sectors have made the cut.

Now, if the Oregon Business Development Department Commission and the legislature sign on, $2.45 million would convert Drive Oregon into a nonprofit corporation that could use state funds to leverage federal and other grants, plus private investments.

“We would be looking at having Drive Oregon actually supply some of the services necessary to go after those resources,” said Mark Frohnmayer, founder of Arcimoto, a Eugene company that builds electric vehicles, and a member of the steering committee for Drive Oregon.

“We’ve mapped out some 40-plus organizations that are already participating in (the sector). One of the very common threads we found though was a lack of capital resources to really get stuff off the ground,” he said. “By specifically constituting this initiative around assisting companies in this space with their needs, we think that’s going to help kickstart, not only startup and incubation points, but bringing products into the space.”

If funded, Drive Oregon would face a daunting to do list: create 166 jobs in two years, establish a regulatory and testing framework for the next generation of ultra efficient vehicles; stoke collaboration between researchers, companies, utilities and government; and marry Oregon’s existing clean tech companies with other manufacturing, software and high tech businesses.

John Doussard, a policy analyst for the Oregon Business Development Department who works with Oregon InC, said the council found several reasons to support the plan.

“We’ve already got the beginnings of national leadership here in Oregon,” he said.

With a federal goal of putting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, Doussard said Drive Oregon stands a good chance of bringing money here, particularly while Portland stands out as one of the largest consumer markets for electric vehicles in the nation.

Though Oregon’s budget crisis will be a significant hurdle to funding Drive Oregon in 2011, Doussard expressed optimism. Oregon InC’s recommendation will weigh heavily in the plan’s favor is clear.

Other sectors that have won the council’s backing have seen steady state funding and solid growth.

Five other initiatives recommended by Oregon InC support nanotechnologies and micro-level manufacturing; the development of green building materials and alternative fuel sources; commercialization of therapies to fight infectious diseases; development of wave energy, and innovation among Oregon’s food processing and seafood industries.

Seeded with $42 million in state money since 2007, the initiatives have lured $195 million back to Oregon. They played a role in launching 15 new companies and developing products from portable kidney dialysis machines to new drugs to fight malaria. Officials say the initiatives help create and retain more than 660 jobs, and provide research and development assistance to 155 companies.

The Oregon Business Development Department Commission will vote on the Drive Oregon initiative Sept. 24.

From:  Sustainable Business Oregon by Lee van der Voo